Tag: indifference

Chekhov, “Chez le barbier” (“At the Barber’s,” 1883)

Makar Blyostken is a poor barber keeping a shabby shop. East Ivanitch Yagodov is his godfather. He gets his haircuts free. He walks in after an illness, when his hair fell out unevenly. He wants his hair shaved. Maker begins. They chat. Catch up. The barber asks about Anna, Yagodov’s daughter. Yagodov wonders why Maker did’t come to her engagement party. Maker is stunned. He was in love with Anna, thought he and she had agreed to marry, he’d spoken to his aunt, she’d agreed to the marriage. Yagodov, without a hint of compassion, is dismissive, tells him he’s not worthy of his daughter, he has a poor trade, tells him it’s done, tells him he can find another fiancee—one lost, ten found. Maker is crushed. He can’t keep cutting. He cries. Yagodov says he’ll return the next day and leaves, his head half cut. When he returns, Maker tells him he’ll have to pay for the job to be finished. Yagodov walks out. He considers paying for haircuts a luxury. He goes to his own daughter’s wedding with his head half shaved: the man of means, stomping on his own relation, reinforcing his poverty.

Hemingway, “On The Quai at Smyrna” (1930)

Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Like reading a Barnett Newman. It is mostly in what Hemingway doesn’t say, in the silences between glimpses of terror and cruelty: “The worst, he said, were the women with the dead babies. You couldn’t get the women to give up their dead babies.” They scream at midnight until the soldiers point searchlights at them. One woman dies and goes immediately stiff. They’re refugees of the Greek-Turkish war of 1922, seen by a seemingly dissociated narrator, either a British or American soldier in charge of managing the situation while Turks, a little too Paul Bowles-like summed- and smudged up in the person of one “Turk,” are portrayed as complicating the situation. But that narrator is either unnerving or maddening, or both. Or mad: “You remember the harbor. There were plenty of nice things floating around in it.” Who is he talking to? Why this reference to “plenty of nice things floating around” in the midst of horrors? What nice things ever float in a harbor? Ever? It’s throw-away details like that, that you know would never be throw-aways in Hemingway, that make you think he’s just throwing a line for effect rather than meaning/ Nothing wrong with that of course. Viz, Newman, his Vir Heroicus Sublimis (the “Heroic Sublime”), whom we just saw at MoMa. See my picture above. Maybe that’s a Turkish man wondering yet again why he’s being thrown under the big red bus and those “zips,” as Newman called those lines. I don’t know why the photo utility I just used dulled the reds as it did. Maybe Kazyo Shigara’s 1964 “Untitled” is more apt:

kazuo shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled,” 1964. (c FlaglerLive)

The two-page vignette was originally the introduction to In Our Time. He unfortunately renamed it, pretentiously, “On the Quai at Smyrna.”